In honor of the Shloshim of Hatomim Hashliach Shneur Zalman Pevzner obm, we present an essay he wrote for the MyLife – Chassidus Applied contest and was cited as a finalist. It gives us a bit of an insight into his delicate spiritual soul, and may be applicable and practical for us all.
Pevzner wrote the essay while battling for his life. Despite his devastating illness, he was consistently in a cheerful mood and had a marvelous ability to stand above all of the challenges which he experienced.
His family and friends have started a fund for outreach in France, Europe and hopefully even more, in his memory.
To donate, click here.
Here is the essay, translated for the first time from Hebrew:
Am I fooling myself!? The conflict between matter and spirit
By Shneur Zalman Pevzner, Paris, France
We all experience now and then a shaky and paradoxical emotional state. It’s hard for us to decide to which group we affiliate ourselves. Sometimes it seems to us to we are part of the secular worldly life, and sometimes it seems to us that we are part of a world spirituality and holiness. This causes us to feel as if we are fooling with ourselves.
In the article you are about to read, we will explore how through one Chassidic idea, tranquility and peace of the soul can be reached.
The gist of the idea is, that our world, and in general all of the worlds – including those that preceded us – are all based on this particular paradox. The purpose of creation is to unite these two extremes.
It’s all part of the big plan.
Being dragged by both ends
Danny is a married businessman, a father to three children. He lives in a relatively nice home, works in the diamond exchange, and thank G-d is successful in his business affairs. When he returns home every night, there is a scrumptious dinner waiting for him. During the summer and winter vacation seasons he flies oversees with his entire family. In short, he lives a life of fun, trips, and most importantly, money.
Only once in a while does he enters the synagogue. To say Kaddish on the Yahrtzeit (day of passing) of his grandfather, on Yom Kippur, and on Simchas Torah.
What’s interesting is that when he visits the synagogue, he experiences a feeling of calmness and holiness. Out of nowhere, he starts to feel a connection to his true Jewish self. He starts introspecting how there is a G-d which exists, and there is a alternative point to life, than the one he is living. He realizes that he does not have to be swimming along with the currents of the worldly styles and trends. He can be living a more uplifted and spiritual existence.
What’s this all got to do with us:
Danny is human, and recently he has started thinking to himself that this just doesn’t make sense. What’s going on with me? My day to day life surrounds money, business, politics, culture and vacationing. This is what my life is about. Yet still, when I visit the synagogue I somehow feel that this is my home. I start to feel that this is really what I am looking for in life, I start feeling that I’ve found myself here.
So I feel like something’s not right with these weird feelings. There’s definitely something false about the whole thing. It’s impossible that the same person who enjoys and craves excursions and elegant restaurants, spending there much of his time. Should on the other hand feel tranquil and pleasurable attending the local synagogue. Sometimes I’m actually in the mood of going!
So I tell myself that I must be lying to myself. This whole spiritual thing is just a hype.
But hey! it also works the other way! Sometimes I’m really in the mood of going to work, and making money, but then once I get there, I feel like I can’t! I find myself craving spirituality!
So what is my real self?
The truth is that we all experience this paradox. Whether we are the most uplifted religious person, or whether we are the Coarse religious person. Or even if we are not presently at the stage of wholly observing Torah and Mitzvos. We are all going through this tog-of-war, at some level or another.
We all have the coarse side, mundane wants, and draws to the life of money and pleasures. And we all have the side of holiness, when we are out of the blue “looking for the truth”, experiencing spirituality. A will to change, and not be animal like. (Ed: For just as an animal seeks only materialism, doesn’t pick it’s head up the sky, and realize there is something higher. We might also have that attitude).
We are all on the same boat, feeling pressured and dragged by these two opposite extremes.
When we think about it, It generates frustration and an unstable feeling…
How do we deal with it?
Paradox – the secret of creation
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his discourse entitled “Vinacha Alav” of the year 5714 – 1954, explains a complex passage of the Zohar (primary work of Kabbala).
The Zohar states that “The infinite light (spiritual energy) of G-d extends and shines infinitely upward and infinitely downward”.
The Rebbe comments that this passage is surly out to describe the infinite greatness of G-d, which is expressed in the fact that his infinite light extends everywhere, above and below.
The Rebbe delves deeper into the meaning of the passage. He askes the following question: We are talking here about G-d’s infinite light. If it is truly infinite, then the differentiation’s of above and below don’t really exist. It’s all equal compared to his infinity.
If so how can we describe the light as extending above and below, if above and below don’t really exist in its world?
G-d’s infinity would have been better described as: “G-d exists everywhere”, or “There is no place devoid of him”.
Obviously there’s some hidden message in the fact that the Zohar “Insists” on describing G-d’s light as to be extending “above and below”.
The story is told about a child who once asked his father where his grandfather was. His grandfather was then not of the living. So his father pointed above and answered him “He’s up there”. He envisioning the world of the souls, “up there” in heaven.
The child excitedly ran toward the steps, up the flight of stairs, looking for his grandfather, but he does not find him. He continues up to the second floor, he still can’t find him. The child runs back downstairs crying hysterically to his father: “where’s grandfather?”
The point is: The terms Up and Down are relative.
This point is the basis of the explanation which the Rebbe offers to explain the above-mentioned passage of the Zohar. Above and below can be understood to be alluding to two extremes in our own existence. Not necessarily alluding to the highest of all highs and the lowest of all lows of all of the physical and spiritual worlds. The term “Below” is being used to describe the “Low quality” of our world, the fact that it is limited and coarse. The term “Above” is being used to describe “Higher quality” which we sometimes experience here. The fact that sometimes experience a drive to something higher, a drive toward a closeness with G-d.
This is the true meaning of “The infinite light of G-d extends and shines infinitely upward and infinitely downward”. In the Rebbe’s words: “The infinite light of G-d is expressed in the fact that it is exists above and below equally, and he gives life to the world in a way that the includes the two extremes. i.e. the lower part of our world and the higher part of our world”.
The Rebbe continues, that in truth, once we’ve arrived at this stage. We can also explain the passage to be alluding to all worlds, even the spiritual worlds that preceded us. Not to be alluding to the fact that there are higher and lower worlds. But rather to the fact that each of them also experience these two extremes.
There is the concept that they are abstract, not definable in physical terms. And then there is the fact that for all their spirituality, they are still limited.
[Ed: To put the Rebbe’s answer into context: We are not looking from top to bottom and describing G-d’s greatness based on the equation of the worlds to him, that they are so high and so low, and still G-d is there equally. for compared to his infinity they are all equal, there isn’t an “Above” and “Below”.
Rather we are looking from the bottom up, seeing how G-d sustains the world on it’s own, – not compared to anything else. The fact that G-d sustains his worlds in a paradoxical context, in a way that includes two opposite extremes. This proclaims G-d’s greatness!]
Why indeed did G-d create our world, and indeed all of the many worlds, based on this paradox?
The reason simple:
This is the mandate which G-d gives each of us, that we unite the two opposite extremes.
Why did G-d create them in the first place, so that there will be that which we must unite?
The answer lies in the words of the Midrash on Parshat Naso: G-d created the universe because “G-d had a craving that he may have a dwelling place in the lowest realm”.
Chasidic though concludes that this craving was for a dwelling place in our very own physical mundane world, the lowest one possible (in this context: in terms of open spirituality and prevalent morality). And that this dwelling should be in the same way that a person feels comfortable in his own personal home. There is no elaboration needed is to detail ones feeling when he sits back in his own privacy. The tranquility, the peace, and most importantly the feeling of no barriers, we can express ourselves and act exactly as we feel like.
That is also the way it is with G-d. He craved to be able to rest himself (The Shechina) in this world 100 percent, just as one would in the privacy of his own home. That is why he created our world which we can rightfully describe as “Low”, so that in this low world there will be creatures able to prepare the world to be a dwelling place for G-d.
And thus, from the time when we were incepted as the Jewish nation, which occurred during “Mattan Torah”, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Our job has been to prep the world to be a worthy of G-d’s dwelling. We do this through infusing spirituality and holiness into our physical surroundings with which we come into contact. Which is also the idea of studying Torah and performing Mitzvos. This goal will be reached, when Moshiach will come. That is when G-d will rest his holiness (Shechina) in our world in the permanent and open manner, as that of a dweller in his home.
We can live in peace with ourselves
Based on all of the above we can understand that a similar reasoning applies to our quandary. Just as G-d purposely created a low world. So too has he purposely created our world with these two extremes. That on the one hand there is an openness and a pull to the physical. And on the other hand there is the higher side, the thirst for G-dliness. G-d is the one that created these two extremes. He is the one who willed it that we would specifically live in this paradox.
So let’s go over to our friend Danny for a moment; he said that he felt that he was lying to himself.
So let’s give him his answer:
The pleasure he experiences on his trips, is him himself. His feeling of holiness, – is also him himself. There’s no fooling going on over here, and there’s no contradiction going on here, for this is the way G-d created us! When he goes to work it’s Danny, and when he goes to the synagogue it’s still Danny!
To bring this concept to life, let us explore a story that has started to circulate recently.
Adi (name changed) tells how he became closer to his Judaism. He tells how ever since his childhood, his father was very far from Judaism. Not just far, he hated religious people to depths of his soul. He would purposely drive them in the car on the holy day of Yom Kippur, to show his children the Jews praying in the synagogue. He would show them how to they were praying with great intent, with their eyes closed.
At the end of the experience he would turn to his children with the following words: You should know my children, that what you see here today is all a show, it’s a falsehood. For right after the fast is over, they run like animals to gorge themselves in their meal. They aren’t really spiritual at all.
This is the way it went, year after year, until he decided on one Yom Kippur to experience the entire day with “those religious people”. The show went on as expected, he was just waiting to see those religious people at their moment of truth. When they would show their true colors.
To his great surprise though, as the sound of the shofar sounded, signaling the end of the fast. Those religious Hasidic people start singing and dancing for a few nice minutes! He can’t believe it! He sees that they aren’t running anywhere. They pray the evening services, and give a heartfelt wish to each other: Gut Yom Tov! Happy Holidays!
Only after that, does each of them go home to satisfy his hunger. He realizes how they had in truth prayed for real all this time, “they aren’t liars after all”. He decided that the time had come for him to return to his roots.
We see that there are no pitfalls. It is true that there are the two extremes, the holy day of a fast, and afterwards, when we go home to eat our meal. Yet there is still no contradiction, for this existence is the will of G-d.
Just as we explained with regards to the world in general, that it was created with an intent in mind. These paradoxical feelings also – created by G-d – have a specific purpose. Just as the point of the world in general is that the creations would prepare the world for G-d’s dwelling. So too is the point of the paradox of our lives. The point in It is to unite the two ends, bring them together as one. Not to suffice with the fact that we sometimes have these spiritual feelings, and the rest of the time be content with our regular go about. Rather our mandate is to unite the spiritual feelings, and bring them down, into the mundane aspects of our lives.
We sometimes think to ourselves, that in the synagogue on Shabbos, we are Jews. We think about G-d, we recognize that this is our true link to existence. But on the outside of the synagogue, on the regular week day, we come to the conclusion that the world exists! We got to act in a way that fits in, we got to speak with the “in” language, we’ve got to think in the world’s way too. We’ve go to deal with reality!
Prayer before work? Never goanna happen! Study some subject of Judaism at night? Won’t happen either!
We tell ourselves: Let the paradox stay a paradox!
This is the answer to Danny: The fact that we all experience this paradox, is for a specific goal. It is there for the ends to be tied together. For you to mix G-d into your life even on a regular Tuesday. Let your spiritual – G-dly edge express itself within your secular – mundane edge.
The truth is that there are those who have the opposite problem. They think that being that they are “spiritual people”; they study Torah all day, most of the day they find themselves in the synagogue. So it isn’t their job to involve themselves with worldly matters.
The world is foreign to them. To reach out and assess where they can be of help to better the world, through doing acts of kindness, through helping a friend. They wouldn’t even dream of the notion! To deliver Torah classes in their work place, to help a friend who does not yet lay Tefillin to do so. That doesn’t come into consideration!
It is easier for them to stay within the constraints of the paradox.
That is where Chassidus (Hassidic thought) comes in, and teaches us that we have an important mandate. To unite the ends of the paradox. To connect between our spirituality to “our” world. We must not sit back with out spirituality!
It would be superfluous to conclude, – yet we shall do so nonetheless – that living such a life is the path to true happiness and tranquility.
How to deal with the paradox of our lives?
Points to keep in mind:
1. G-d is the one who created the world and man based on this paradox.
2. We don’t have to feel like we’re of the deep end – we were created this way!
3. We’ve go to realize that this is actually our mandate, to unite the ends.In one of two forms:
Let’s make this practical:
I. Those that spend most of their day on business and the like have the responsibility to bring spirituality into their regular day to day. Through praying every day, through relating some words of Torah to those with who we work.
II. Those that spend most of their day on learning Torah and the like. Must reach out to the world – from time to time – and enlighten it with the light of Torah. Through giving Torah classes, and laying Tefillin with others.
The original essay in Hebrew is posted at meaningfullife.com
Please take a moment to take a Masechta of Mishnayos or take a Hachlata L’iluy Nishmas Shneur Zalman a”h Ben Yosef Yitzchok: click here